No matter where you’re heading or how far away are you traveling from home: there are some things that every tourist does while visiting a new city. Taking pictures to every church, scheduling visits to museums, or asking directions to the best local food you can get for a decent price are true classics in this department. It’s curious how this eagerness about doing everything we can in the least amount possible of time can often lead us to dismiss –or, directly, ignore– some of the most interesting and authentic art expressions present in practically every city, no matter how big or small: statues! Few things can tell you more about the culture, traditions, or lifestyle of a foreign place than the sculptures erected throughout its streets, parks, and plazas.
Sure, most statues aren’t something especially outstanding or worthy of a specific visit. But, on some occasions, a few of them manage to break the mold and leave us wondering: what the heck is that? Funny, irreverent, macabre, evocative, inspiring…join us on this trip through some of the most odd & strange statues in Europe!
Fountain of The Fallen Angel (Madrid, Spain)
Commonly known as the only prominent statue devoted entirely to the Prince of Darkness in the whole planet, the Fountain of The Fallen Angel is a spectacular recreation of Lucifer himself being expelled from Heaven. Nestled at the ever-popular Retiro Park, this masterpiece never fails to gather both locals and tourists alike thanks to the powerful expressivity of its provocative and unusual protagonist. The Fountain of the Fallen Angel was created in 1877 by sculptor Ricardo Bellver, and its intense dramatism captivated visitors attending the Third Paris’ World Fair. Always controversial due to its demonic inspiration, the statue is even located at exactly 666 meters over the sea level…which is, maybe not coincidentally, the alleged Number of the Beast according to some sacred texts!
Man Hanging Out (Prague, Czech Republic)
But Satan was just the beginning! When it comes to bizarre, unconceivable, and outrageously controversial statues, few European cities can compete with Prague. There’s a reason for that, and it has its own name: David Cerny, a truly unique artist famous for his irreverent pieces of art and dismissive attitude towards traditionally accepted conventions. Since we’d need a whole new post to explore his most outlandish masterpieces throughout Prague (he installed a group of creepy faceless babies crawling over the Zizkow Television Tower, a luminescent fetus inside a grotesque embryo placed on a drainpipe, and a composition of two men urinating in front of each other at the Kafka Museum), we can be sure to hit a nerve going with his famous Man Hanging Out. Created in 1996, it’s easy to miss this sculpture of a hanged man unless you look up when walking by the touristic Husova Street in the city’s Old Town. Placed more than 60 feet above the ground, the perturbing piece is supposed to represent none other than the world-famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. The reason? It’s not clear, although it might have something to do with Freud’s thoughts about fear of heights. The unsettling statue has traveled throughout the world, shocking everybody in its wake. In Michigan, for example, it was even mistaken with a real suicide attempt!
Zinneke (Brussels, Belgium)
Sure, everybody has heard about Manneken Pis, the statue of a urinating little kid that has become one of the most famous icons of Belgium’s capital. But, did you know about his also incontinent best friend? Because peeing babies also deserve the companion of a canine pal, Zinneke has been doing his thing on Rue des Chartreux since 1998. And it’s exactly what you’d imagine: a dog lifting its leg to…well…urinate. Fun fact: the word “zinneke” can be used to describe stray dogs and as a nickname for Brussel residents. A typical example of Belgian humor (there’s also a little statue of a girl, Jeanneke Pis, urinating in Brussels), the poor bronze pup was struck by a car in 2015. Luckily, it was promptly restored.
Man at Work / Cumil (Bratislava, Slovakia)
This playful statue created by Viktor Hulik can be found in Panska Street, in the Old Town of Bratislava, and will almost definitely make you smile. The sculpture depicts a worker who’s just taking a break from work. Innocent, you say? Well, according to some rumors, the naughty Cumil (which, by the way, means “Watcher” in Slovakian) might be in fact peeping out of the manhole to look under the ladies’ skirts. That’d surely explain that mischievous smile! Truth or myth, it’s undeniable that Cumil has deservedly become a little tourist attraction on its own among the visitors of this European city.
Maman (Bilbao, Spain)
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Back to Spain, this time to Northern territories, to admire real close — if you dare– one of the most terrifying statues you can face in Western Europe. Because, who isn’t afraid, at least a little bit, of spiders? Well, then imagine walking right next to this 30-feet tall and over 33-feet wide arachnid nightmare. Although it’s been all over the world, from Canada to Japan, this immense statue created by Louise Bourgeoi is currently located next to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Think it can’t get any creepier? Look closely: the spider is, in fact, pregnant, as its sac of marble eggs can prove. Although not a piece for everyone, it’s complicated to not get instantly fascinated by its sinuous lines and menacing posture.
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Les Voyageurs (Marseilles, France)
Created by French sculptor Bruno Catalano, this absolutely stunning group of 10 workers walking by the Port of Marseilles lacks something that most statues definitely have: torsos! The consequent effect to the viewer is breathtaking, ghostly, even magical. How do they remain upright, without such an important part of their bodies? An ephemeral sensation that has been captivating Marseille’s residents and visitors alike since the city was declared European Capital of Culture in 2013.
Decebalus (Orsova, Romania)
This one looks directly borrowed from The Lord of The Rings mythos. Because, fair enough, statues usually look nice in parks and streets. But one sculpted directly from a mountain, using its natural rock to portray a legendary king? That’s epic. To check it out you’ll need to take a boat and sail the mighty Danube in southwestern Romania, where this magnificent statue of the last monarch of Dacia will take your breath away. Located next to the border with Serbia, this recreation of Decebalus is, not surprisingly, the tallest rock carving you can find in all of Europe. The local hero and scourge of the Roman Empire rises to 180 feet tall, and it took more than 10 sculptors to be created during a whole decade (1994-2004). Impressive, by all accounts!
Possanka (Turku, Finland)
Ok, this one’s as bizarre as it gets. Delightfully bizarre, of course. How else can you describe an unholy combination of a rubber duck with a marzipan pig? Located right next to the student campus of the University of Turku, this 16-foot tall statue was designed by Alvar Gullichsen in 1999, and it was originally placed floating across the river Aurajoki. More than an impossible chimera, Possanka poses a quite original statement against modern gene technology, apart from symbolizing Turkus’s avant-garde drive. Not unlike many other beloved statues throughout Europe, it’s traditional to dress the statue for special occasions, such as Christmas Eve or Walpurgis Night.
Le Passe-Muraille (Paris, France)
The neighborhood of Montmartre is one of the most charming and visited places of the city of Paris, and truly a destination where you can find wonders like this unusual statue sticking out from a wall. This sculpture is an homage to the protagonist of The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls, a short story written by French novelist Marcel Ayme. In this straightforward title, M. Dutilleul finds out that he has the ability to walk through walls and decides to become an adulterous delinquent. Spoiler alert: the misguided fellow ends up stuck inside a wall after suddenly losing his superpower, as anybody walking by Rue Norvins can see. Crime doesn’t pay, kids.
Angry Boy (Oslo, Norway)
Let’s end this unorthodox trip on an angry note! No need to get flustered, though. Just book some cheap red eye flights to Oslo and be sure to visit Vigeland Park, the biggest sculpture park in Europe created by a single artist, to find this brilliant ode to toddler tantrums. Admired by thousands of tourists every year, the Angry Boy designed by Gustav Vigeland perfectly captures a kid crying in pure anger, fists clenched, and right before stomping the ground in an all-too-familiar scene for millions of resigned parents from all over the world.